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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4464

Ms LEY (4:40 PM) —I wish to address the parliament this evening on the matter of cancer services in Albury-Wodonga. For many years I have been very supportive of the strong community desire to see the establishment of a cancer centre based in Albury-Wodonga. I recall being approached by the Cancer Society of Australia a few years ago and they outlined that Albury-Wodonga was the most logical place to locate a regional cancer centre of excellence. Cancer affects hundreds of thousands of Australian families, with about 100,000 new cases being diagnosed each year and roughly 40,000 people dying from various forms of the disease each year. We have all been touched by cancer in some way. The burden of cancer in our rural and regional areas is one that we are struggling to cope with. We must work towards improving outcomes. People in rural areas are three times more likely to die from some form of cancer within five years of being diagnosed than those living in metropolitan areas.

Last year the government announced $560 million to improve access to cancer care services in regional areas of Australia. This was to help close the gap in outcomes for rural cancer patients. From a government in disarray, I hoped for some light in a very dark tunnel. But, along with our local community, I was extremely disappointed when Albury-Wodonga was not one of those areas fortunate enough to get funding for a cancer centre. I am in no way critical of the areas that were lucky enough to get funding, but I know that the case for a centre and for cancer funding in Albury was made equally as well as, if not better than, all of the successful cases. We were allocated a $5 million PET CT scanner. We appreciate that. But it is not enough. Remember, this centre would service a catchment of some 250,000 people from west of Deniliquin to Corryong, north to Holbrook and south to Mansfield. I would like to mention my colleague the member for Indi, who represents a portion of that area and is similarly energetic in her efforts to achieve this centre.

I have some questions about how metropolitan centres fitted into the criteria that I read, which were about rural and regional centres. Metropolitan centres seemed to be successful in a program that was designed to close the gap in rural areas. Perhaps there should have been two different and clear assessment criteria.

There is no doubt that cancer services have improved in our border towns in the past 13 years. There is now access to radiation and chemotherapy services in Albury-Wodonga, which there was not when I entered parliament in 2001. But there is also a rapid increase in the number of cases being diagnosed in the region, and cancer services have to keep up. The radiation and chemotherapy units are at capacity. Equipment in some cases is outdated. My constituents are therefore unable to access the most up-to-date equipment or services. We need to expand and update these services.

We have a great basis for world-class cancer care and improved outcomes for patients in our local towns. We are lucky to have the services of fantastic oncologists, doctors and nurses. I cannot speak highly enough of those involved in patient care. But we need more funding. We need to fund improved infrastructure, including operating theatres and buildings in which more than one treatment can take place, in a suitable area—not just a crowded corner of a room that services other community health needs. We must be able to compete with those metropolitan and other regional areas in attracting and retaining our health professionals. The two issues are inextricably linked. People will not stay in an area with outdated equipment and overworked staff. And why would they?

Many patients have to travel to Melbourne for surgery or treatment. It is estimated that about 100 each month go to Melbourne from this region. That is a financial and emotional pressure that these patients and their families do not need. There was a rally in Albury at the Commercial Club last Saturday. At short notice, well over 400 people attended. Petitions are filling up rapidly across the region that I represent. People are asking about cancer services and expressing their great disappointment at not receiving this latest funding. It is a long time since I have been stopped so often by people in the street concerned about a single issue. Remember, cancer touches us all. The coalition is committed to fixing the budget bottom line in the national interest and all of our commitments have to be seen in this light. I will be working as hard as I can to make it a coalition election commitment come later this year. (Time expired)